First Lessons in Faith
From the initial moments of life until death, children pay close attention to their parents’ attitudes, approaches and passions. They take on our personality traits and values not by formal instruction, but from just watching us. Our kids will learn how important faith is according to how we live it.
PREPARE FERTILE GROUND
Though it’s paramount that we teach our children prayers and practices, it’s equally necessary for we parents tend to our own souls. We are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), and the whole of our lives is meant to be an imitation of our Creator. The Lord imprinted Himself in our humanity, so giving our hearts over to God will not only deepen our intimacy with Him, but also yield a stronger confidence in ourselves as well as a closer imitation of God’s mercy toward His own children.
Jesus spoke honestly in John 15:5, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” It’s fact that a vine cannot function away from the branches, that a sheep will lose itself when it leaves the voice of the shepherd. If we parents pray, knowing we depend entirely on providence for everything, then we’ll begin to reflect God’s parenting in our own.
TEND WITH CARE
“Teach a child in the way he should go and when he is older, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6) This proverb underscores the staying power of lessons taught in youth. Our kids need to learn prayers, but we should check our expectations. Young souls have short attention spans and will likely get the wiggles when they’re supposed to be still. Keep prayer time brief and be patient with questions, inattention and curiosity.
Start with a short, daily prayer time. Just like a congregation learns responses through regular Mass attendance, children learn rote prayers when they hear them often. Thank God for graces and blessings, then invite them to do the same. Ask God for needs and wants, so they will, too. Read from an illustrated Children’s Bible to introduce them to the kindness and power of Christ.
PREP FOR SUCCESS
The rubber really hits the road when we go to Mass with our little ones. Before heading out the door, make sure everyone uses the bathroom and feed children who don’t need to observe the fast before receiving Holy Communion. Meeting these basic needs will support good behavior.
Read the next Sunday’s Gospel to your kids during the week leading up to Mass. Have a conversation about it. When they hear the reading on Sunday, they’ll get excited!
Though you might be inclined to take a seat in the back of the church, the best spot for a child’s participation in Mass is right up front. Quietly talk to your children – ask them where the priest is and what he’s doing. Use simple terms to talk about the mysteries of our faith: “Jesus is God and He sends the Holy Spirit to turn the bread into His body. It’s a miracle.”
Remember that even when kids misbehave, distract others or get bored in Mass, just bringing them before God is an incredible grace. Nothing compares to presenting ourselves as humbled parents with the children God gave to us. The benefit is eternal life, salvation, grace and intimacy with Jesus – and so worth the challenge.
FRUITS OF OUR LABORS
The fruit of doing all of the above is a cultivated relationship between our children and the Lord. In witnessing our faith, they learn how to pray, how to trust and reverence before God. Of course, it’s easy to talk about it and a little more of an effort to put it into practice. We’ll learn just like our children, so while we’re trying to extend them grace, we should do the same for ourselves. Parenting in general is hard; parenting while trying to foster intimacy between child and God is harder.
The work is sacred, and Jesus upholds us with grace to do what He asks. It’s all possible because we’re fashioned in His image, and in drawing closer to Him ourselves, we’ll spread love of our Catholic faith in such a way that will carry on for generations.
This article appeared in the July 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.